It was only 6:00 AM and the roads were already covered with snow. I was slated to present at a conference in New York the next morning and my flight was at 3:00. The weather channel said the storm would be over by noon, but Delta had canceled several afternoon flights already. I thought of […]
Over the last twenty years it has become increasingly clear that inflammation is a major factor in chronic illness. Inflammation at the cellular level, that is, not a swollen ankle from an ill-advised snowboarding race or a bruised knee from a run-in with your credenza. The inflammation associated with diabetes, heart disease, dementia and now mood disorders is happening quietly at the cellular level initiated by signaling molecules like cytokines and reflected in blood markers such as C-reactive protein.
Researchers agree, inflammation is a harbinger of bad health. Consequently, you can’t throw an ice cream cone without hitting someone on a version of an anti-inflammation diet. That person will not be licking the Ben and Jerry’s residue off his arm because anti-inflammation diets discourage the consumption of dairy products as well as processed grains and meats, sugar and shelf stable fats.
The details vary between versions but with the exception of the more stringent no-grain diets (such as Paleo and ketogenic) anti-inflammation diets are variants of the classic Mediterranean diet. Dr. Lisa Mosconi, Associate Director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell claims the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline with aging. In addition to reducing the consumption of the afore mentioned pro-inflammation foods, increased intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and nuts are encouraged. Plant based foods are emphasized because they contain substances that reduce signaling molecules that increase inflammation.
When followed, an anti-inflammation diet changes lives at best and generally improves health at worst. The no grain diets may require modifications for long term use and have less scientific support partly because they are relatively new. Details about which foods do what also need to be ironed out as well as how inflammation contributes to specific conditions like anxiety.
We already know pro-inflammatory signaling molecules not only irritate the tissue but change the way genes are expressed. Since most of your genes are exactly the same as every other person on the planet, genetic tendencies are really how and which genes express. (There are minor differences with profound effects in genetic conditions, like Down Syndrome when there is a recurring typo in the genetic material.) So if anxiety ‘runs in your family’, you are more likely to continue to express genes contributing to anxiety when cellular inflammation is high. In fact, you are much more likely to have anxiety, period, when inflammation is high.
Can the right diet give you peace of mind? Probably not. What reducing inflammation does instead is remove obstacles to peace of mind. Can it reduce anxiety tendencies? Yes, but it will rarely cure anxiety. An anti-inflammation diet can create an environment where happiness and peace of mind is possible and easier to achieve. Put another way, without a dietary base, other treatment strategies such as mindfulness meditation, exercise, cognitive behavior therapy and medication are handicapped. It is the equivalent of trying to meditate in a nightclub or exercising in cement-lined sneakers. It will take a lot more work with a lot less results.